Needing Attention

Misbehaving Boy

Dear Dr. Bill,

My question deals with my five year old son, Seth.  Whenever Seth discovers that I’m unhappy with him or he gets into trouble, he runs away from me!  I have to chase him down just to talk to him.  Is this normal behavior?  How should I respond?



Dear Susan,

It’s possible that Seth is running away because it gets your attention.  Five year olds crave attention from their parents, and if he’s not getting enough attention for his positive behavior, he’ll do whatever he can to get you to interact with him—even if that means getting attention for negative behavior.

I suggest you start making an intentional effort to “catch Seth being good.”  In other words, whenever he is the least bit helpful, cooperative, or respectful, praise him for his positive behavior.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly he will respond to this type of attention.

Also, you will need to learn to use consequences effectively when responding to Seth’s negative behavior.

Remember that consequences need to be specific.  Clearly spell out what is expected of him and what will happen if he doesn’t obey.

Consequences also need to be consistent.   If you are inconsistent with your discipline, Seth will learn you that you don’t really mean what you say.

Finally, consequences need to be powerful.  If a consequence doesn’t mean anything to Seth, it won’t work to change his behavior.

Of course, always deliver consequences with love.  Remember, explanations can be given after the consequences are delivered.  When in doubt: Act don’t Yak!

Thanks for writing, Susan.


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